This post originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on March 22, 2006
I had been warned, of course. All the tourist books pointed out that it was, well, touristy, but the biggest disappointment was that it was so completely un-Mexican.
I don't know what it's like now, but 20 years ago, when you booked a stay in one of Cancun's shining white high rises on the beach with their overly air- conditioned French and Italian restaurants, you could be anywhere on Earth.
Mexico? Maybe, but you had to look hard.
For me, the one authentic Mexican moment came at breakfast time. For the morning meal our hotel broke out a huge buffet: Danish pastries and croissants galore, omelets and pancakes, tons of bacon and platters of tropical fruits, sliced meats and cheeses.
But tucked off to the side of this international bounty, kept warm in a chafing dish, was a comforting concoction of fried tortillas, scrambled eggs, and chilies. Crunchy, creamy, salty and spicy, it hit every texture and taste bud and was still as simple as could be.
Day after day, I dished it up, spooning a fiery salsa on the side; day after day, I ate so much at breakfast that not once was I hungry for lunch. Although I didn't know it, I had just begun a lifetime love affair with migas.
Migas, (pronounced MEE gaz) means crumbs in Spanish, and the basic idea is that it uses up leftovers - bread, in some regions of Spain and Mexico, tortillas in others - crumbled up into eggs, or sometimes soup or other casseroled dish.
We make French toast by dipping our stale leftover bread into egg and frying it (in New Orleans and France, they call it "pain perdu," literally "lost bread,") or by making egg strata or bread puddings. The Spanish and the Mexicans make migas.
You don't find migas on restaurant menus much (though on lucky days, I have talked local Mexican restaurants into making it for me for brunch) because it is home food, something you make for the family for breakfast, or throw together for an easy late night supper.
In its use of leftover tortillas, it is similar to chilaquiles - a sort of free-style Mexican lasagna, where stale tortilla strips bathed in spicy tomato sauce stand in for the pasta layers - which is on some of our local menus.
Like so many good things, there are many ways to prepare migas, and lots of controversy about which one is right. Some recipes call for you to tear up or slice the tortillas and fry them yourself, others let you substitute tortilla chips. Some add the tortillas at the end, to keep the whole dish crispy, others have you soak them in the egg so the dish is thick and corny. Some add cheese, some add peppers and tomatoes, most top it with fresh chopped cilantro and salsa.
Over time I have evolved a recipe that puts all the good things in, and varies only as to whether I fry the tortillas myself (really delicious, but a little more time consuming) or buy them already prepared. When I do the latter, I get whole tortillas fried for tostadas in the Mexican section of the grocery instead of chips meant for dipping – they are usually less salty and greasy. My migas recipe may not be totally authentic, but it is tastes great anytime – from Christmas Day brunch, to a cold and rainy spring morning.
And, you know, with migas I figure we'll always have Cancun. At least as much of it as we want.
There is no "right" way to prepare this dish. Feel free to play around with the quantities and the ingredients to suit your taste; it's hard to go wrong. These eggs can be served for breakfast or brunch, or with refried beans and salad for lunch or light dinner.
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, diced
1 chili pepper, chopped (optional, to taste) or 1/2 cup canned chopped roasted chili peppers
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack or Colby cheese
1 ripe tomato, diced (if there are no ripe tomatoes, use chopped cherry or grape tomatoes or omit altogether)
6 corn tortillas, cut into strips and fried, or the equivalent quantity of tortilla chips, broken into pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup diced avocado (optional)
flour tortillas, warmed in oven (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and peppers and saute until softened. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is softened and fragrant. Do not allow garlic to brown. Salt and pepper vegetables to taste. (Remember that if you are using tortilla chips they will be salty, too, so adjust seasonings accordingly.)
Whisk together eggs and milk. Add grated cheese and mix well. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Melt butter in pan with sauteed vegetables. Add eggs and scramble, stirring up from the bottom to incorporate the vegetables with the cooked egg. Add tomatoes.
When eggs are partway cooked, crumble in tortilla chips. Continue to stir and cook until eggs are set and chips are incorporated.
Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with cilantro, salsa and avocado. Serve with warm flour tortillas on the side.